The other Dan Pearson project that I was keen to see in a cold London was the small, but perfectly formed, Handyside Gardens, complete with play park, which slithers between new buildings at Kings Cross to make great use of a little ribbon of land. I have borrowed 2 photographs from Dan Pearsons own site to show what I mean, thank you Dan Pearson Studio.
All of the planting that was up looked in great shape, especially the flowering Cornus mas hedges which thread their way through the beds and playpark. The bright yellow open pompoms were very welcome on a cold and wintry day.
There was fun to be had- and not only from the snake sandpit, which I loved. Pretending to be four years old, I climbed up the slide steps to get a bit of a view, nothing quite as aerial as the Dan Pearson photographs though.
The site sits on top of Underground tunnels and so soil depth was an issue. Raising the planting up in parts of the site, using warm coppery Corten to make raised beds, also created lots of impromptu seating possibilities, especially near the play equipment.
I loved this massive, hefty pergola, underplanted with grasses and, in summer, probably a great play thicket as well as an adult pleasure.
From the aerial photographs, you can see the sinuous, elongated tear-shapes of the beds, which reminded me of the great John Brookes, whose sinuous Modernist design for Bryanston Square, didn’t survive the return of the traditionalists. The design drawings for this simply beautiful design can be seen in the current Garden Museum exhibition on John Brookes, a man who speaks such clear sense about design.
Two halves of a sweeping water rill bring you towards the canal end of the Gardens, with winter planting of the stunning Bergenia purpurescens ‘Irish Crimson’ and flowering Hamemelis. No scent, as I think it really was too cold to be able to smell anything.
But that Bergenia….well, an outrageous and simply brilliant beetroot red in the little bit of sunshine that broke through. This variety came from the Irish botanical garden at Glasnevin, was tended and raised by the great Irish gardener, Helen Dillon, who then gave it to the great Beth Chatto, and from the Chatto Nursery, it has made its way into the trade, though it is not yet widely available. Gorgeous, and who needs flowers?
The underplanting that had already made it out was doing a very good job, and none better than Helleborus orientalis. Flowering starts with me around late December, continues right through to late March, and, as the plants warm up, so the flowerheads rise up on growing stalks, so that the look of the planting in early March is quite different from early January. And the foliage lasts, with a faintly jungly look about it, pretty much right through the rest of the year. It’s a bargain.
Race you to the snake…